Peripheral artery disease: are you at risk?

This serious, sometimes symptomless condition increases an individual’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
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Some people with peripheral artery disease may not experience any symptoms. For those who do, symptoms may include:

  • Claudication—heaviness, tiredness or cramping in the leg that occurs during activity and resolves after the activity is stopped
  • Sores on toes, feet or legs that heal slowly or not at all
  • Pain in the legs or feet that wakes you up or prevents sleep
  • Color changes in the feet, particularly blueness
  • Poor nail growth or decreased hair growth on the legs
  • A lower temperature in one leg than the other If you have questions or concerns about PAD, contact your primary care physician.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) affects 1 in 20 Americans over the age of 50. It occurs when plaque, a fatty deposit, builds up in the arteries, restricting blood flow to the legs. These fatty deposits put the individual at a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. The problem is that buildup of plaque may not result in any detectable symptoms. That’s why it’s important to know not only the potential symptoms, but also the risk factors so you can talk with your doctor.

According to Theresa Impeduglia, M.D., a vascular surgeon who is affiliated with Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, some of the symptoms include painful cramping of the legs when trying to walk or climb stairs, and numbness, weakness or coldness of the extremities.

“You need to pay attention to these symptoms to protect your body from progressive vascular disease and intervene early,” says Dr. Impeduglia. When assessing your risk for PAD, your doctor will take a personal and family medical history. He or she also will perform a physical exam to check pulses, color and temperature of the legs and feet, and may perform an ankle-brachial index. This test compares the blood pressure in your ankles with that in your arms. If PAD is suspected, your doctor also may order an ultrasound to try to identify the blocked artery.

Treatment options for PAD include lifestyle changes, medication and surgery. Lifestyle changes that improve PAD include quitting smoking, improving cholesterol and blood glucose levels, eating a healthy diet, exercising and achieving or maintaining a healthy weight.

Medical treatment may include prescriptions to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, manage diabetes, or prevent the formation of blood clots. In addition, surgery or minimally invasive therapy, including stents coated with an antiproliferative drug, may be used to unclog arteries, Dr. Impeduglia says. The best thing you can do to decrease your risk for PAD is to make those lifestyle changes now, if necessary, or to maintain your healthy lifestyle into the future.

PAD is one of hundreds of conditions that develop in patients who have high cholesterol, are overweight, don’t exercise, have developed diabetes or smoke. Remedying these health issues will help reduce your risk of PAD and countless other conditions as you age. Why not start now? Your future self will thank you for it

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